A group of Jewish students tried to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (a city divided between Israelis and Palestinians) when they took a wrong turn. The finished up in a Palestinian area.

Fayez Abu Hamdiyeh, a local Palestinian, said: “I heard shouts outside, I left my house and saw the five Jews frantically leaving their car, which was attacked by stones. They were very anxious, one was injured and bleeding from his face. I reassured down. I told them in Hebrew that it will be okay, I gave them water, and I helped the injured man.”

He called police and sheltered them with his family in their flat until soldiers arrived to collect them.

 

When I was working in Jerusalem I became very concerned about the need, pain and fears of both Israelis and Palestinians. My concern for Israelis had predated our move to Israel but I learnt a great deal about the Palestinians whilst we were there. I was CEO of a ministry to Jewish people and became convinced that fostering reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians was a major spiritual responsibility. Hence I started circulating an email newsletter which seeks to encourage Christians to pray in an informed and unbiased way. During my time as Rector of Christ Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem prayers for reconciliation, justice and peace became very prominent. This did not endear me to some of my more right wing Zionist colleagues and others.

I disapprove of some manifestations of Christian Zionism. But equally I disapprove of some manifestations on the pro-Palestinian side. It is from this background that I write to make strong criticism of the recent statement by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches entitled “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East.” It was circulated at the end of May 2013 after a meeting at the Notre-Dame du Mont Monastery in Lebanon.

This statement shows extensive support for the Palestinians in their needs, which is good. However:

It shows great insensitivity against the background of the  history of Christian anti-Semitism

 

It includes the statement: “We believe that the Gospel calls us always to love God and love our neighbours and all people, as did Jesus Christ, the revelation of divine love. In Him, the whole of humanity is reconciled and united in the bond of God’s plan of salvation.” But it does not show such an attitude towards Jewish Israelis. It mentions that “Christians, Muslims and Jews all experience the destructive effects of [current negative] trends.” It also recommends “engagement with Jewish partners also working for peace and justice.” But these 22 words are the only positive references to Jewish people in the whole 2,600 word document.  There is, however, strong condemnation of Israel. Is the WCC not aware of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism which undermines the credibility of the church with respect to the Jewish people? Is it not aware of Jewish sensitivities? Does it not understand that such a biased statement will cause damage to Christian-Jewish relations?

The report states: “Christians must reject Islamophobia, which mischaracterizes Islam as an undifferentiated whole, and undermines decades of cultivation of co-operation with Muslims, and must refuse the temptation to amalgamation, generalization, and sensationalization of our Muslim brothers and sisters.” I agree with that statement. But where is the equivalent statement about anti-Semitism, which is very much alive and well in the world today?

It shows insensitivity to Israeli insecurity

 

The report speaks of : “The persistence, after sixty-five years, of continuing dispossession of Palestinian people—Christian and Muslim alike—from their land by Israeli occupation, continuing settlement of land inside the 1967 borders by a nation empowered by overwhelming military strength and external alliances and influence….”  This is an important statement. The current Israeli government is not acting properly with respect to the Peace Process.

 

But where is the statement about the threat which Israel feels because of anti-Semitism, persecution over the centuries, the Holocaust and threats from some of its neighbours, especially Iran and groups like Hezbollah and Hamas which are dedicated to its destruction?

It makes Israel a scape-goat for the problems of the Middle East

The report states: “Palestine continues to be the central issue in the region.  Resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine in accordance with the UN resolutions and international law, will greatly help resolving the other conflicts in the region.”   “Jerusalem today is an occupied city with a government which has adopted discriminatory policies against Christians and Muslims alike.”

It is quite incredible that the report doesn’t make a more balanced statement including the Arab “Spring” with all the ensuing problems, the Syrian civil war, extreme Islamists, Iraq with its serious problems and Iran with its nuclear intentions. Instead it just says: “This is a time of crisis with special intensity here in the Middle East … an intensification of religious tribalism, increasing fundamentalism in many of the world’s religions, dispersion of the influence of radicalized Islamist groups.”

It is also totally insensitive and biased to say the whole of Jerusalem is an occupied city. The report actually states: “Jerusalem today is an occupied city.”.

It makes an uninformed and insensitive blanket condemnation of Christian Zionism

I attended a week’s conference in Jerusalem on “Christian Zionism” organised by the Sabeel Palestinian Liberation Theology Movement (which takes a theological approach to political liberation for the Palestinians). I listened carefully to the speakers but could not recognise the “Christian Zionism” they were describing. It certainly didn’t describe my views which would be regarded as moderate Christian Zionist. I began to realise that they were describing extreme Christian Zionism in the United States, with which I would have serious disagreements.

The report says: “Christians who promote “Christian Zionism” distort the interpretation of the Word of God and the historic connection of Palestinians—Christians and Muslims—to the Holy Land, enable the manipulation of public opinion by Zionist lobbies, and damage intra-Christian relations.” I totally deny all those accusations as would many Christian Zionists.  The WCC which is supposed to be knowledgeable about and tolerant of all the different Christian traditions has shown its lack of research and dialogue, its ignorance and its prejudice about Christian Zionism.

The report calls on the WCC to “Convene the spiritual and academic resources of the WCC and ecumenical partners in consultations to address Christian Zionism, disclosing its sources, its use as a political weapon against the Palestinian people, and its effects on intra-Christian relations.” I suggest they discuss with moderate Christian Zionists who are very careful in their interpretation of Scripture and very concerned for the strong biblical emphasis on justice, including for the Palestinians.

Ignores the Messianic Believing (Jewish Christian) community

The report speaks of Christians in the Middle East but it totally ignores the significant and growing Messianic Movement in Israel. (These are Jewish believers in Jesus). Yes, sometimes believers in Jesus can be oppressed in Israel. But this omission is typical of this report which only pays token respect to the Jewish people.

The New Testament teaches that God still has a purpose for the Jewish people and that this will involve them in a massive turning to their Messiah and ours, Jesus Christ, in the End Times. This will have a major impact on the world but will lead to persecution (for both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ). The church should therefore avoid anything which will hinder Jewish people coming to Christ. Fair criticism is acceptable but the insensitivity and bias of this report is not.

I pray for justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel. I encourage prayer for both sides of this conflict, because God loves both people groups and wants the best for them.

However I suggest that the best destination for this report is the shredding machine.

 

Our attitude towards Muslims in Britain is a sensitive issue and so I want my position on the matter to be very clear.

I believe we must treat Muslims with respect and kindness. In other words, we must love our Muslim neighbour. It is wrong to be anti-Muslim. Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. I have had a lot to do with Muslims:

·         I have been involved in dialogue with Muslims on several occasions at a British university. I observed their worship and found it quite moving at times.

·         I spoke by invitation at the Muslim College in Ealing, London.

·         Whilst Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem I reached out in reconciliation to local Muslims, inviting them to a reception and on another occasion sending many of them a card marking the Muslim New Year.

·         I have had dialogue with an imam who is a Professor of Islamic Studies.

·         I also run an international mailing list which encourages prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

I mention all this to back up my statement that I am not anti-Muslim. In fact, I respect Muslims and enjoy conversation and dialogue with them. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people.

 

However, respecting Muslims does not rule out making reasonable criticism of Islam. To try to forbid such criticism as Islamophobic is wrong. I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources criticise Muslims and Islam from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it.

 

Obviously, Muslims and Christians disagree. We disagree over fundamental issues such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. The Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is fundamentally contradictory to the Christian view. It is true that Muslims believe Jesus will return one day, but this is the Muslim Jesus not the Christian Jesus. Therefore, from a Christian point of view, this is a false Christ. That is a theological disagreement not an anti-Muslim (let alone Islamophobic) comment.

 

Similarly it is not anti-Muslim (or Islamophobic) to express concern that Christianity and its influence on society is waning seriously and Islam and its influence on society is growing quite strongly. Clearly, as a Christian I want society to be influenced by a Christian view of Jesus (and eternal salvation through him) not a Muslim view. That is a theological disagreement with Islam, not a statement against Muslims. As a Christian evangelist I would also love Muslims to come to know the true Jesus and salvation through him.

 

This position does not, of course, rule out friendship and co-operation on community issues. Nor does it rule out respectful and honest dialogue.

LATEST MESSAGE No 10 posted 23rd June 2013

 

This Post only contains shorter messages. There are separate articles on Eschatology which are listed on the Welcome Post above.

Message 1

As many of you know, one of my main interests (after living and working in Israel) is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I shall soon be producing one of my occasional newsletters encouraging prayer for both sides and seeking to take the need, pain and fears of both sides seriously.

 

However, I am also interested in what the NT says about Israel in an eschatological (End Times) context.

 

It is good to have Friends from the Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab and Palestinian people groups. I think it is very important for me to explain my attitude to Israel (and to the Palestinians). It is easy to be misunderstood – by both sides. In a nutshell I believe God loves both people groups equally, but more needs to be said. So, this week I plan to outline my attitude towards Israel. By all means respond but bear in mind, I will probably take the whole week to summarise all I want to say on the subject and I shall come onto the Palestinian people later in the week. I shall then put an article on the blog.

 

My first message on the subject follows.

Message 2

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 1:

There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:

Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) – the only explanation for this huge phenomena is that it is demonic.

  • Lack of compassion for the Jewish people (not understanding the effect of centuries of persecution, much of it from the church).
  • Uncritical support (the idea that Israel is always wonderful and can do nothing wrong).
  • False eschatological views (the idea that God will deal with Jewish people totally separately from Gentiles, and on the basis of the Law, not faith in Jesus).

 

I have given the subject much thought and prayer over many years

  • I was General Director of the Churches Ministry among Jewish People for 7 years and on its Council for 20 years.).
  • Over the years I have met and discussed with many Jewish people, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have also met and discussed with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have met and discussed with many Christian Zionists, some of whom had extreme views.

Message 3

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 2:

God has not simply replaced the Jewish people with the church, his calling of them is irrevocable.

See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29

 

God still has a purpose for the Jewish people in Jesus. “All Israel will be saved” (through Jesus) when “the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27).

 

The return of the Jewish people to Israel is prophetically significant.

However controversial it is and however much Israel fails the Lord, the Old Testament foretells a worldwide return in the Last Days (see Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14).

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK

 

Ian Paul: But there is a huge debate to be had about who ‘Israel’ is in Rom 11.25…I am convinced by NT Wright’s reading of this to mean ‘All who will come to know God in Jesus.’

 

My reply: I am aware of this, Paul, but the whole context makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Gentiles and I find it very difficult to believe ‘Israel’ has a different meaning from the previous verse where it obviously means literal (Jewish) Israel.

 

Ian Paul: Well, that is the main criticism of eg Tom Wright’s position (I guess you have read him on this…?). But then Paul uses ‘Israel’ to mean ‘God’s true people’ rather than ‘the ethnic nation’ earlier in this section in 9.6, arguably he uses it in the same way in Gal 6.16, and also in Eph 2.12. In fact, Eph 2.14 would support this idea that both Jews and Gentiles are now one ‘Israel of God.’

 

Again, fascinating you list Joel 3 above…when Peter is quite explicit that ‘those last days’ when the people will return, there will be signs in heaven, and the Spirit is poured out on all flesh…are the days of Pentecost in which he is speaking! In the words of F F Bruce ‘This is that…’

 

My reply: I have always understood Rom 9:6 as Paul speaking only of the Jews but distinguishing between Jewish believers and purely ethnic Jews. I don’t think Eph 2 proves anything because there is no reference to the word ‘Israel’. But clearly Gal 6:16 is speaking of the new Jewish-Gentile Israel. On your second point there is also ‘the now and the not yet’, the multiple fulfilment of prophecy. I don’t think you can say that the Day of Pentecost totally and finally fulfilled Joel when it goes on immediately to speak of “wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (By the way, thanks for the discussion, I’m finding it both enjoyable and helpful – keep challenging me).

Message 4

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 3:

The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign

 

The NT assumes knowledge of the OT which does speak of a worldwide return of the Jewish people to the land so there are not many references to it in the NT, but here are two.

Jesus says the end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem is a sign in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

 

Jesus does not disagree with the disciples when they speak of the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

 

We must oppose anti-Semitism and be compassionate towards the need, pain and fears of Jewish people.

Memories of persecution and especially of the Holocaust are very strong. Israelis fear the loss of the land because of all that, whatever their military strength.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK

 

David Sax: Excellent Tony. I wish that more believers would read this and consider it carefully.

Ian Paul: Not sure if you want an FB debate about this…I have always found it striking that NT appears to see the OT promises to Israel as completely fulfilled in Jesus. That followers of Jesus come from ‘every tribe language people and nation’ is the fulfilment of the promise of gathering.

 

My reply: By all means debate, Ian. Obviously, the NT is the blossoming of the ‘bud’ of the OT but I’m convinced that, however ‘untidy’ it is, the NT does follow the OT is seeing a future purpose for the Jewish people – but only in Christ. Hence my first composite point above. Replacement Theology (which I’ll define for the benefit of others), namely the idea that church has totally replaced the Jewish people in God’s purposes, does not seem to fit all the biblical material. See my article ‘Christian Zionism: An Attempt at a Biblical Basis’ at http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/christianzionismbiblebias.html

Ian Paul: I agree with you about ‘replacement theology’ not being in the NT. But I am struggling to relate your first line ‘the regaining of Jerusalem is an end-times sign’ to the NT in the light eg of Jesus’ seeing himself as the new temple in John’s gospel. But I will look at your article…

(It does seem odd to me that the *only* text you cite in support of the Jerusalem comment is Luke 21.24…which doesn’t actually say much.)

My reply: I’m convinced that Luke 21:24 is literal. The Jewish people did literally ‘fall by the sword’ and were literally ‘taken as prisoners to all the nations’ and Jerusalem has been for 2000 years literally ‘trampled on by the Gentiles’ and so I can’t be other than literal in regard to the direct implication of ‘until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’, namely the Jewish people regaining control. Also what happened in the 20th century is a most remarkable coincidence if it doesn’t relate to that prophecy. As I said, I think it is backed up by the direct implication of Jesus’ reply Acts 1:6 (and a great deal of OT prophecy). That is not to deny that the Kingdom is bigger than believing (Jewish) Israel (and, of course, I am not at this moment commenting on the political (Israeli-Palestinian) aspect. More on that later).

If I were basing this point merely on two brief verses (both of them inferences), namely Luke 21:24 and Acts 1:6, it would hardly be a strong foundation. But those two verses are the NT tip of the OT iceberg which is Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14.

Message 5

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 4:

 

God loves the Palestinian people as much as anyone.

  • He wants the best for them
  • He wants them to be treated with dignity and justice, which is all too often not the way they are treated by the Israeli government.

 

The Torah (Law) commands Israel to love the Palestinians.

This teaching is about foreigners (non-Jews) in the land and applies to the territories under Israel’s control. It is particularly relevant to Zionists who believe the Palestinian areas should be and remain Israel proper.

  • The Lord loves and defends the foreigner (Deut 10:18-19; Psa 146:9).
  • The Lord forbids Israel to ill treat, oppress or deprive the foreigner (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Deut 24:14, 17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezk 22:7, 29; Zech 7:10).
  • Anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner is strongly condemned (Deut 27:19; Mal 3:5).
  • The people of Israel must love foreigners as they love themselves (Lev 19:33-34).
  • Israel must provide for needy foreigners (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21; 26:12; Ezk 47:21-23).

 

The Palestinians are responsible to act justly with respect to Israel, which is all too often not the case.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

Peter Gray-Read: Tony, Israel is an economic support for the Palestinians, Israel would love closer ties but when you are bombed as they have been they need to protect themselves. WE have to recognise that the Palestinians Arabs have been a pawn used by other Islamic nations to get world opinion against the Jews. And many have swallowed the bait. Israel has absorbed Jews from so many nations. How big is Israel? Why could not the other huge Arabic nations have shown such compassion on their own people. I love your desire to promote the study of end times but please be careful about the blame Israel lobby. They who bless Israel will be blessed … Gt Britain had such an opportunity to assign the Jews land commensurate with their God given heritage after WW1 we abused that trust. Let’s not repeat the mistake.

My reply: Peter, there are faults on both sides of this dispute but your (admittedly brief) comment seems to be putting all the blame on the Palestinian/Arab side. It is not that I disagree with your criticisms of them but the situation is more complicated. Your statements that Israel is “an economic support for the Palestinians” and “would love closer ties” are not the whole picture. For example, the fact is that a significant number of Israelis do not long for closer ties. I used to take a solely pro-Israel view before I lived in Israel and listened extensively to people from both sides and did a fair amount of research.

I am well aware of the “Israel can do no wrong” lobby as I am of the “Israel can do no right” lobby and I definitely disagree with both of them. They are both mistaken and unhelpful. We must recognise the need, pain, fear – and faults – on both sides if we are to pray effectively. And prayer is the most important thing we can do. You will have read my very positive statements re Israel and its future (and my condemnation of anti-Semitism) over the last few days. But I do not believe we bless Israel by ignoring her faults (see the Prophets – to whom I referred in my piece), any more than we love an individual by ignoring his/her faults. The same can be said for the Palestinian side. The problem with the Arab nations absorbing the Palestinians is that the Palestinians believe they have a right to return to what they see as their homeland. Whatever we think about this or the likelihood of it happening we have to understand this aspiration, just as we have to understand the Jewish concerns about not losing their homeland. We must show God-given compassion to both sides and on that basis assess and pray about the faults of both sides. (I’ll deal with the “God-given heritage” later so won’t comment now).

 

Message 6

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIANS 5:

There are two attitudes we need to avoid:

 

  1. An excessive appreciation of Israel: I know what it is to have a deep love and a profound concern for Israel. It first happened to me in 1983 and I believe it is God-given. But the danger is that it leads to an uncritical and very biased support for Israel – ‘Israel can do no wrong.’

 

  1. A unconsciously anti-Semitic carping criticism of Israel: This can be deemed to be a proper concern for justice for the Palestinians. There is such a thing as righteous anger over injustice but this isn’t it. Katrina Lantos Swett wrote recently: “While no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe).

 

There are two attitudes we need to have:

 

  1. A true friend will be a critical friend and will share constructive criticism
  • I want to be a true friend of Israel (and also of the Palestinian people).
  1. We must always listen to both sides of the story
  • Anyone with any experience knows one must listen to both sides of a story, however convincing one side is. This is true in the realm of personal relationships. It is true in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides use propaganda. Both sides can make overwhelmingly convincing cases.

 

[This is the final part of my 5 comments on this subject. They are now in article form on http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=277]

 

Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians? Because although the re-establishment of Israel is an End Times sign, I cannot talk about it without compassion for both people groups, not only for reconciliation, justice and security but also for them to come to know Jesus. It may surprise you to know that many Jewish people think Christian Zionists are only interested in them eschatologically because they will be killed in the Battle of Armageddon. We need to show that is not our position.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

David Sax: Well said Tony.

Angela Harverson: Indeed .we must have the two eyed approach..

Hazel Smalley: Yes, we must never lose sight of the fact that there are two sides to every story….and especially where Israel is concerned.

Peter Gray-Read: Amen to that. Paul’s desire was that all Israel be saved – it should be ours as well. They are not just a Biblical exhibit – they and the descendants of Ishmael are our brothers and sisters. Thank you

 

Alasdair Gordon: One of the most balanced articles I have read in a long time on this difficult subject.

Ian Paul: I would agree with this–but I am unclear how it sits with your conviction that the land has been promised in perpetuity. When Israel steals land that belongs to others and builds settlements on it, is this a violations of human rights or enacting Israel’s God-given right?

My reply: Ian, I am about to write relevantly to your question but you may like to see my brand new article “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284

 

Stanley Hierons: Am in agreement Tony…

Hazel Smalley: Just read your “brand new article” Tony…and I shall read it again as it’s a lot to take in all at once! Thank you ‘tho, I enjoy a good and informed read any time!!

 Message 7

On April 3rd a hundred prominent US Jews wrote a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister: “We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to respond to President Obama’s call for peace by taking concrete confidence building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We urge you, in particular, to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.”

 

I have written earlier that the re-establishment of Israel is a sign of the End Times and a fulfilment of God’s ancient promises about the land. But I also believe that the establishment of a Palestinian State is probably the right way forward for Israel. That raises the question: Is it right to divide the Promised Land?

Message 8

IS IT RIGHT TO DIVIDE THE PROMISED LAND? 2

I will briefly summarise various points I make in my article (Is it right to divide the Promised Land? See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284)

1.      The “Promised Land” included much of what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

So it is difficult to imagine Israel possessing the whole of the land. Israel has only possessed the whole land for 40 out of the last 4000 years (1% of the time), {some would say they have never possessed the whole land] yet God has worked out his purposes for the Jewish people.

2.      Israel is not obeying the law which is a condition of possessing the Promised Land

God commanded Israel to observe a “Year of Jubilee” every 50th year when all property is to be returned to its original owner. This was a condition of keeping the land. (Those who are strict about God’s promise of the whole land should be strict about this too!). Only having part of the land is preferable to losing it.

 

I shall give more reasons later but you may like to read my full article “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284

3.      Israel has a God-given responsibility towards the Palestinians

In have already addressed this on Facebook.

4.      The single-state solution is not really viable for Jewish Israelis

Israel is a democracy and the single-state solution (making Palestinians citizens) would soon mean an Arab majority and an end to the safe Jewish homeland.

5.      If Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians the world will turn against her

Scripture foretells such a turning against Israel. But Israel should not to bring unnecessary or premature trouble on herself just because of some ‘prophetic’ resignation or fatalism.

It seems clear to me that, in view of God’s faithfulness to Israel despite her not having the whole of the Promised Land throughout most of history and not having a land at all for many centuries, we need to take the way of faith in our thinking. God has shown with abundant clarity that he can fulfill his promises to Israel despite all the anti-Semitism and persecution and, one might add, her rejection of God’s Messiah. The way of faith includes obeying what Scripture teaches about justice and loving one’s neighbour, which must be applied to foreigners and those from another people group. It means trusting God to protect Israel (although this does not, of course, rule out taking proper precautions). The two-state solution seems the best for Israel as well as the Palestinians, although I don’t think it will mean an end to all danger and strife. But Israel will regain support from powerful allies against those seeking to destroy her. If it is God’s purpose for her ultimately to have more of the Promised Land, God is not limited by Israel agreeing in the near future to the Palestinians having their own state. One thing is certain, he would reward her obedience.

Message 9

TO INFORM YOUR PRAYERS FOR ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIANS
My latest Paradox Newsletter is now available. My newsletters seek to take the needs, pain and fears of both sides seriously. This edition asks what hope there is for the Peace Process and reports on

• The situation with Hamas in Gaza
• The effects of the UN agreement to treat the Palestinians as a “non-member observer state”
• The dangerous isolation of Israel
• Israel’s relationship with the US
• The results of the Israeli General Election

• Thanksgiving & Prayer Topics

See http://prayerforpeace.org.uk/blog/?p=37

Message 10

CURRENT AFFAIRS: ISRAELI GOVERNMENT “STRONGLY OPPOSED TO PALESTINIAN STATE”

Having spoken strongly about the strong anti-Israel bias in the WCC’s recent statement I now have to say something on the other side. This week Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economics and trade minister said in a meeting of West Bank settlers that it was hopeless to expect a settlement with the Palestinians. He said: “Never have so many people invested so much energy in something that is hopeless …. This land has been ours for 3,000 years. There was never a Palestinian state here and we were never occupiers. The house is ours and we are residents here, not the occupiers.” He then said Israel should “build, build, build” settlements on the West Bank.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, agreed with Bennett.  Two weeks earlier the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, claimed a majority within the Israeli government were strongly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. He said: “If there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the party and the government.”

All this is very sad and guaranteed to create a lot of trouble for Israel as well as frustrating the Palestinians in their legitimate desire for their own state. True, there was never a Palestinian state on the West Bank but there were Palestinian people living there, many of whom were displaced and their private land occupied. These politicians should realise that we are living in 2013, not 1948. There is now a recognised and defined Palestinian people who naturally wish to have their own state.  It is wrong and unjust not to recognise this.

I recently wrote at greater length about this issue in “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” at

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284  This new development is very disturbing and we must pray it won’t prevent a just settlement with peace and security for both sides.

Surely not!  He is so loving, kind and forgiving. Surely if I can’t forgive someone God, who is love, will still forgive me.

Well … actually, no! Listen to what he says: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15).

He says this immediately after teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer which, in the version we say in every service, states: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

In other words, if I say the Lord’s Prayer, whilst still not having forgiven someone or done all I reasonably can to be reconciled with them, those words are irrelevant. I won’t be forgiven.

It follows that when I say the confession I’m not forgiven, whatever the Minister says.  This is serious.

So if I go to God with unforgiveness in my heart and ask him to forgive me, he will say: Go and forgive the person you haven’t forgiven. Then, but only then, I will forgive you.”

What does forgiving someone mean?

It doesn’t mean:

  • We suddenly approve of what they (genuinely) said or did to upset us. We might still strongly disapprove.
  • We necessarily have to like the person or become close friends.

It means that:

  • We pray regularly for God’s blessing on them. Jesus said “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6: 28). That will help us to deal with temptations to be resentful or even hateful.
  • We let the other person know we are willing to forgive and be reconciled. Of course, they have to be willing too, otherwise reconciliation is impossible. However, even then, we must maintain a forgiving attitude and readiness to be reconciled.
  • We apologise if there is something to apologise for.
  • We act for their benefit, if an opportunity arises.
  • At the very least we seek to draw a line, establish a truce, and seek to relate positively to one another.

I had a whole morning free so I spent it exploring the site of the Battle of Hastings in the hot Sussex sun. It was fascinating but sad. So much blood has been shed in conflicts over the years, normally because of selfish, power hungry leaders.

I was on the South coast to speak at meetings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whilst we were living in Jerusalem we developed a deep concern for reconciliation. I was responsible for 60 staff, many of whom were Jewish or Arab Israelis. I knew a lot about Jewish culture and attitudes, but not so much about Arabs. I therefore spent a good deal of time listening to the Arab staff. It was very illuminating. I had gone out there to major on relating to Jewish people (which was my job description) and I was quite pro-Israel. But talking with the Arabs (including some Palestinians – the same people group as Israeli Arabs but without Israeli citizenship) transformed my understanding and removed some misconceptions.

One meeting was held in the Roman Catholic Church. I was brought up to believe that Roman Catholics probably couldn’t be Christians(!) and here I was speaking in a Roman Catholic Church and being warmly welcomed by the priest. Obviously I had long since realised, through talking with many of them, that Catholics can be wonderful Christians. I was also thrilled that there were 15 Ministers present in the audience, from Pentecostals and Independent Churches through to Anglicans. At the invitation of the priest, they all stood at the front to bless the congregation. Since then a group of Poor Clares (Catholic nuns) have been in correspondence with me and gone on my mailing list.

Another meeting was chaired by the Dean of the local Cathedral. He had been very active in reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants when he ministered in Liverpool. He said publicly that he was surprised, having been on General Synod during my campaigning days, to hear me emphasising reconciliation and balancing the needs, pain and fears of Israelis and Palestinians. He was even more surprised that I publicly admitted changing my mind over women priests, after voting against them in the 1992 General Synod debate. He would not have known all this had he not heard my talk.

The whole trip illustrated one of the main points I was stressing in my talks. We must listen carefully to both sides in the Holy Land conflict. That goes for all human relationships where there is tension. At times over the years I have been totally convinced by a wife that her husband was responsible for their marital problems – until I have listened to the husband!  Only then could I get an accurate picture.

So lesson number one in reconciliation is listen (directly) to both sides, listen (directly) to those with whom you disagree. Only then will it be possible to reach that reconciliation which is always God’s will, even if it means agreeing to disagree (as I still would with those I opposed in General Synod). Only then will it be possible fully to reach that attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation which Jesus said is a condition of being forgiven by God.

Our time living in Jerusalem was an enriching experience of relating to Christians of different traditions. The church which I inherited as Rector was definitely Evangelical and tended to keep itself to itself.  I wasn’t at all happy with this and made a point of reaching out to the many churches in the Old City. We lived sandwiched between the Armenian Orthodox and the Latin (RC) Patriarchate. I reached out to both. I had an enjoyable lunch with the (RC) priest of the Hebrew Catholic Church. Then there were the Greek Orthodox (I was fascinated by their Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), the Greek Catholics, the Ethiopian Orthodox (that was a rich experience of a totally different culture). I almost lost count of the ancient “denominations” I’d never heard of. It was great to join in Unity Week led by the Roman Catholics in the biblical Upper Room and to join in two weeks of daily prayers for peace in a different “denomination” each day.  England seems a bit monochrome by comparison!

We had some fascinating experiences of relating to the Jewish Community, but also to our Muslim neighbours. I am part of a group of clergy which dialogues with the Muslims at the local university. I have attended several of these sessions and been impressed watching the devout young Muslims at their worship. I firmly believe that Jesus is the only Saviour but I also believe it is important to reach out in peace and love to our brothers and sisters in other faith groups, and so in a small way to counter the suspicion, fear and violence which characterises the attitudes of some towards those of other faiths.